Shawna Williams, owner of the F/V Lola Grace, and Keith Boyle, owner of the Snickers, work together to load their flats nets onto their boats in preparation of the first Copper River commercial fishing opener on May 16, 2019. File photo by Keith Boyle for The Cordova Times

Alaska legislators have approved formation of a task force to make policy recommendations in the coming months to help boost the economic fortunes of the state’s struggling commercial fishing industry. 

Given all the other issues consuming lawmakers time and energy as the current legislative session was coming to a close, Tracy Welch, executive director of United Fishermen of Alaska, said she hoped the work of the task force would help build momentum for boosting the industry’s fortunes going into the Legislature’s 2025 session.   

“We’re trying to get noticed,” said Welch, of a session dominated by work on state funding for education, the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend, and more. “I am hopeful this is a good chance for us to have face to face time with legislators and build some momentum for next year.” 

Jerry McCune, a veteran fisherman from Cordova and former president of UFA said he wasn’t quite sure what to say about the task force, “Hopefully it’s going to be helpful,” McCune said.   
“Hopefully they will talk to processors, fishermen and markets. It will be educational for legislators,” said McCune, on the eve of the Copper River salmon fishery, set to open on May 16. While optimistic about the run, McCune said he was concerned about high fuel prices and what price per pound processors would be offering to harvesters in June and July.  

“We can’t go below $2 a pound to the fishermen,” he said. “That’s a minimum.” 

Legislators on Sunday, May 12, approved a resolution to create the eight-member task force, to be modeled off of another legislative task force created over 20 years ago to help the salmon fishery, as harvesters were facing low prices and competition from farmed fish. 

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The resolution from the House Special Committee on Fisheries, and sponsored by the Alaska Senate Finance Committee, addressed the economic pressure on harvesters worried about markets and the number of processing facilities up for sale, closure or with plans to shut down for part or all of the 2024 fishing season. 

The resolution calls for the state Senate president to serve as chair and appoint three additional members from the Senate, while the Speaker of the House appoints four other members. 

The task force will be mandated to develop a long-term vision for the state’s seafood industry and address how the government can assist the seafood industry in Alaska in responding to changes in the world economy. The task force will also be asked to propose ways to improve coordination of harvesting, processing and marketing of Alaska seafood, ways to incentivize new product development and marketing efforts, and to boost the quality of seafood products coming from Alaska. The task force is to develop a report of its findings and recommendations to the 2025 Legislature by next Jan. 21, and in the interim make any additional reports it finds advisable. 

This story originally ran in the May 17 issue of The Cordova Times.

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